CALDECOTT MEDAL WINNER – 1985
Trina Schart Hyman, illustrator
text retold by Margaret Hodges
New York: Little, Brown, 1984
ages 5 +
Interests: fairy tales, knights, dragons, princesses, quests, castles, British history, saints
Next: King Arthur stories, more about St. George
Also by this illustrator: Rapunzel, The Serpent Slayer; and Other Stories of Strong Women
Princess Una has travelled far and wide to find a champion to defeat the dragon plaguing her kingdom. As the story begins she and her champion are travelling back to her home to face the beast. Immediately upon their arrival the dragon attacks. A fierce and prolonged battle ensues but the young and inexperienced knight is finally victorious, winning the kingdom and the princess’ hand.
This retelling of the story of St. George from Spenser’s Faerie Queene is rather long and poetic, but extremely vivid, particularly in the detailed description of the terrifying beast. The language is of an old style, but accessible, and successfully evocative of the source work. The illustrations are romantic and gorgeous, with borders around the text in the style of illuminated manuscripts. The battle is shown very heroically, but I particularly liked the detail in the crowd scenes, especially the page with the awestruck villagers ogling the dead dragon… one mother scolding her children for getting too close to it.
Some may roll their eyes at the ending with the requisite ‘winning the hand of the fair maiden’, but Princess Una is an active participant in the tale, having travelled and fetched the champion in the first place. This may not be seen as so heroic, but she is given credit for her brave actions. (In fact during their travels it is told that whenever they get separated the knight loses his way and she has to find him and put him back on track.)
Because it is so lengthy/wordy, this book requires a rather long attention span, but once the action starts it is compelling.
Trina Schart Hyman has illustrated many other fairy and folk tale picture books. Check out Rapunzel and The Serpent Slayer; and Other Stories of Strong Women.